Workplace dilemmas: I’ve fallen for a co-worker!

In a new series, our agony uncle deals with your workplace dilemmas. This time: how to behave if you’ve got the hots for a colleague

Dear Tim, For the past few months I’ve been working closely with a female colleague. She’s very attractive, and has a wonderful personality. I knew that before we started on our project, and had always admired her from afar. But now we’ve been pushed together, and seem to spend a good proportion of our working week in one another’s company, either with others or working one to one. 

The truth is that I’ve fallen for her, big time. She’s so vivacious and lively, and I greatly look forward to spending time with her, even though we have to focus on boring work. I feel like I could tell her anything, and she’s really receptive to my humour and perspective on life. 

I try to be witty and charismatic when I’m around her, and find that it’s having an impact on how I am in the workplace. While I’m certainly more enthusiastic about going to work, I’m so busy showing off to her that I don’t think I’m performing as effectively as I should. And I’m definitely manufacturing opportunities to spend yet more time with her. 

I know our project will come to an end in another month or so, and I’m desperate not to compromise our working relationship, or our burgeoning friendship. That said, what if she’s “The One”? I wouldn’t want to miss my chance at happiness. I’d like to think she may be interested in me. She certainly seems to enjoy my company, and we’ve taken lunch together more than once. But what if I make a move and she doesn’t respond, or – worse still – accuses me of behaving inappropriately? 

Should I simply pretend my feelings aren’t there and carry on as normal? Or do I tell her how I feel, and risk being rejected and creating a potentially awkward atmosphere in the office? Help!

- Hopeless Romantic

Answer: This is an age-old dilemma, which most people experience at some point in their lives. Whether single or attached, we all develop crushes on colleagues from time to time. The important thing is to manage them appropriately, being sure not to cross any behavioural lines, and to preserve the often finely-tuned balance of the working environment. Work through the questions below, and you should find it easier to decide how to act.

Are you both single? This is the most important question to ask yourself, right from the get-go. If either of you is in a relationship, embarking upon something new is a big no-no. Even if one of you is unhappy with your existing partner, the fallout from an affair is never anything less than messy. And if you bring that into the workplace, it’s a recipe for disaster. 

Does your workplace have any guidance on office relationships? Some employers encourage staff to keep a distance between their personal and professional lives. So while everyone acknowledges that relationships between colleagues are inevitable, they may advise you to pursue them outside normal working hours. This may sound draconian, but it’s a good way of protecting all parties, including the people in the relationship, their co-workers and their managers. If your employer has a policy, it’s worth familiarising yourself with it, and acting accordingly. 

How would you feel if your feelings were not reciprocated? Unrequited love is by no means uncommon. Shakespeare made a whole career out of writing about it. But it can cause awkwardness and tension if revealed. So unless you’re confident that you can cope with a gentle let-down, and carry on working to the best of your ability alongside this person who you’ve fallen for, you may be better not to reveal your feelings. 

Of course, this is easier said than done, and you’ve already acknowledged that your flirtatiousness is compromising your performance at work. So there’s every chance the object of your affections has got wise to your feelings. If that’s the case, it may be that one of you needs to take the initiative and speak openly. Worst case scenario, it’ll give her a chance to explain that she doesn’t view you in “that way”. Best case scenario, it’ll be just the spur you need to start a whole new chapter in your lives. 

Is there a chance you’ll work together again in the future? You say that you’ve been thrown together because of a particular project that you’re working on. If it’s a one-off, then the obvious time to raise the possibility of a relationship is as the project comes to an end. 

You could say something like, “Since we’re not going to be working together every day, I wondered if you’d fancy going out for a drink sometime. I think I’d feel sorry not to see you so regularly.” If your colleague accepts the invitation, there’s a high chance she’s keen on you, too. And if not… well, she can let you down gently and you can go back to admiring her from afar. 

Can you trust yourself to behave appropriately, no matter the outcome? Whatever happens next in your relationship with your colleague, you need to make sure you behave in an appropriate manner at every turn. If she’s not interested, walk away and focus on your professional relationship. Don’t crowd her, or try to win her over with elaborate displays of affection. Such behaviour can quickly become creepy. 

If she is keen, you’ll need to work out how best to conduct your relationship, especially in the early days. It pays to be discreet in any new relationship, and that’s especially the case with a workplace love affair. That way, you’ll give yourselves space for romance to blossom. And who knows where that may lead?

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© 2017 Just Recruitment Group Ltd. 

Posted on Wednesday Aug 2